A walk through the cold storage facility in St. Davids is like strolling through storerooms of Niagara-on-the-Lake businesses.
There are bushels of fresh fruit, tubs of frozen cherry concentrate, bins of vegetables, cages of champagne produced by a local winery aging for two to three years until it is ready for consumption, cases of wine, beer, cider and even the popular organic Kombucha, waiting to be shipped.
There are empty bottles and cans standing by until they are needed, cardboard boxes ready to be used for shipping, even packages of toilet paper and Christmas decorations at the ready — more than 300 businesses have products stored in the St. Davids facility.
Businesses in NOTL, and indeed throughout the region, requiring storage space for just about anything they don’t have room for on their own premises, depend on St. Davids Cold Storage to warehouse their products.
St. Mark’s Church uses it to store cherry pies for its annual cherry festival — at no charge — as does NOTL Minor Hockey for its frozen burgers used for fundraising barbeques, and St. Davids Lions for their storage needs.
The original 33,000 square-foot facility, shut down by the former CanGro fruit processing plant, was taken over by three local owners in 2008 to provide storage for the food and beverage industry. The first customer was Paul Bosc of Chateau des Charmes, who had cases of wine to store. Ravine Vineyards Estate Winery is a good customer, as are many local wineries, along with Niagara College.
The facility has seen two additions, one in 2012 and more recently in 2018, and as you drive along Four Mile Creek Road through St. Davids, it’s obvious there is yet another addition underway. When completed it will bring the entire facility up to 70,000 square feet, says Alfred Dyck, now the sole owner.
When the canning factory closed down, 300 jobs were lost, his lawyer Sarah Premi told council last week. The storage facility has replaced those with 120 new jobs, and will add more when the current construction is completed.
Touring through the building and its many nooks and crannies, the temperature is cool, but not freezing.
Dyck explains the entire facility is climate-controlled, but at three different levels — basically, cool, cold and freezing. Six large freezers are kept at -18 degrees Celsius. In 2010, partnering with Niagara Harvest (Ken Hunter, and Rick and Fred Andres), the first freezer units were built, says Dyck. and more have been added since.
When business owners in Niagara need storage space, they can save a great deal of money by taking advantage of what is already available, rather than building an expensive addition they may only need seasonally, Dyck says. Previously, Niagara growers needing cold storage for their products had to go to Ingersoll.
“If anyone has seasonal storage needs, they send their stuff to us, and we solve their problems,” says Dyck. “That’s what we’re known for.” And apart from the original warehouse space, where fruit was stored until it was ready to be canned, the facility has been built on what used to be a parking lot, he points out.
However, his most recent addition got him into a spot of trouble with some neighbours, and he has spent several months working with the Town to find a solution.
At issue is a condenser unit on the side of the newest freezer, which faces the Cannery Park subdivision. When it was first installed, Dyck admits it was noisy. It was what he expected. He had panels purchased to lessen the noise, but a neighbour complained to the Town before he had a chance to install them, he says.
That brought work to a halt for several months while town staff looked into the complaint, experts were brought in and recommendations made on how he should proceed, and during that time, he agrees with the neighbours, the condenser was loud.
Dyck hadn’t included the condenser on the site plan he submitted to the Town planning department, and town staff didn’t catch that it had been omitted, so an amended site plan has been before council recently for approval. But councillors are struggling, some in favour of a businessman who is trying to correct an error in the site plan omission, and others who want to ensure neighbours’ rights to be free from the intrusion of noise and vibration, aren’t being jeopardized. Two Cannery Park residents have made deputations to council about the noise and vibration, describing a situation that prevents them from enjoying their backyards and causes difficulty sleeping. One neighbour showed photos of the windows on the back of his house, covered with slabs of styrofoam to reduce the noise inside. When he was asked at council last week if it is still noisy after the work that’s been done, he says, “it’s a little better, but we still hear it and feel it.”
Dyck has now carried out the work recommended by noise abatement experts and town staff, and has a little bit of “tweaking” planned to further reduce the noise, he told council last week.
Experts have tested decibel levels, saying the condenser, which is surrounded by wooden panels lined with a metal, wool-filled noise-absorbing wall, is within one decibel of provincial guidelines.
Dyck’s plan to add a blanket of foam on the walls around the condenser will further reduce the noise, he says, bringing it below accepted levels.
Councillors also heard one neighbour’s child’s bed vibrates from the condenser. Dyck says the firm he hired to look at noise abatement, which has been subject to peer review by the Town, says the vibration measured on the concrete pad the condenser sits on is within acceptable levels, but the Cannery Park resident maintains it can be felt in an upstairs bedroom.
At last week’s council meeting, Dyck’s lawyer told councillors he has done everything required of him. “There is science to support the staff’s position” that the site plan amendment be approved, says Premi.
She told councillors Dyck didn’t know he needed a site plan that showed the position of the condenser, and since finding out, has worked with staff to comply.
He has spent $75,000 on that work, she says, explaining the complaints were of noise levels before the work was completed.
She suggested the solution would be for councillors to defer approval of the site plan amendment until the next council meeting, Nov. 11, by which time Dyck will have completed the tweaking he spoke of — the foam blanket — and should have the experts’ numbers to show he has accomplished all that was asked of him.
Several councillors have been out to hear the hum of the condenser for themselves.
Coun. Clare Cameron told council she had trouble hearing the unit over the sound of the birds chirping in the trees, and didn’t find it any louder than her neighbours’ air conditioners.
Coun. Erwin Wiens reminded council, and Cannery Park residents, of an undertaking the developer was supposed to include in purchase agreements for each unit, warning of “noise, odour and dust from nearby agricultural operations and agricultural-related traffic, industrial operations and industrial/commercial traffic.”
Dyck says he doesn’t know whether the clause was actually included in sale agreements — that would have been up to the developer of the property.
As the tour ends, a local farmer arrives asking if he can store some bins of butternut squash. He’s grown more than he can sell at the moment, and he doesn’t have room to store them. The alternative is to throw it out. Dyck agrees to look after them for him.
About the condenser, he says, “I’ve tried to solve the problem, to do everything I have to do to be a good neighbour. Now all I can do is wait.”